December 5, 2005


Religion Versus Reality: Who is this man—a mystic, a bumbling political novice or an imminent threat to Iran's established order? (Richard Ernsberger Jr., 12/12/05, Newsweek International)

Iran may be a nasty theocracy, but it's no monolithic evil empire. Indeed, the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said before last June's election that "the existence of two factions [conservative and reformist] serves the regime, like the two wings of a bird." But Ahmadinejad's messianic message has shaken the boughs of the establishment and created turmoil within the conservative leadership at a time when Iran is involved in crucial international negotiations over its nuclear program. Khamenei is said to have thrown his support behind Ahmadinejad just two days before the election last June, supposedly at the urging of his son, Mojtaba. But some experts now believe Khamenei regrets his decision and fears Ahmadinejad more than he did the previous president, Mohammad Khatami, who though a reformist at least supported the status quo.

Clearly, the new president does not—and that makes the country's traditional and very conservative clerical leaders uneasy, partly because they've exploited the current system for personal gain. "The new government is neoconservative and quite hard-line, and that doesn't even do justice to how wacky they are," says Ali Ansari, an associate professor of modern history at St. Andrews University in Scotland. As for Ahmadinejad himself, Ansari describes him as "very naive politically and out of his depth."

It's not clear if Ahmadinejad poses a serious threat to Khamenei's authority, but the new president certainly aims to install a more rigid Islamic government. [...]

Ahmadinejad is not a budding Stalin, many experts suggest, but merely a grossly inexperienced, unpolished political tyro. Says Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a political analyst and professor at Tehran University: "The question is, can his reliance on Imam Mahdi be turned into a political ideology? I don't think so. Even the leading theologians in Qum do not take these allusions seriously."

Parliament doesn't either, apparently. Already it has dismantled the centerpiece of Ahmadinejad's populist program—the Imam Reza Care Fund, better known as the "Love Fund," intended to provide interest-free wedding loans for young people as well as to offer make-work employment programs. Meanwhile, Khamenei may now be working behind the scenes to bolster Rafsanjani at Ahmadinejad's expense.

Ayatollah Khamenei badly miscalculated the last election and the degree to which his machinations had estranged the reformist electorate from the process. But the contradictions have to be forced in Iran sooner or later it may as well be before they've got nukes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 5, 2005 4:22 PM

They already have nukes.

Posted by: pj at December 5, 2005 5:16 PM

Not until the Norks sell them some.

Posted by: oj at December 5, 2005 6:19 PM

They want to die and we want to kill them.

Posted by: ratbert at December 5, 2005 11:44 PM